Port City Kiwanis celebrates 32 years of service|[10/09/05]

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 10, 2005

Civic organization first to integrate in Vicksburg

Two charter members of Port City Kiwanis sat beside each other at a table inside Tree House Cafe in downtown Vicksburg Thursday night, talking and laughing as they recalled more than 30 years of service and friendship.

Travis W. Vance and James Stirgus Sr. were two of the six founding members attending the 32nd installation of officers that night. More than 30 years ago, they gathered at Holiday Inn on Clay Street with other members for the first meeting of Port City Kiwanis.

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That was in June 1974.

Not much has changed since then, at least for a few charter members who remember what it was like to form an integrated civic club – a first for Vicksburg and Kiwanis.

&#8221On the international level, this club was the first integrated club there was,“ Vance said.

Tearing down racial barriers or making history was not the plan. All they cared about was helping people – regardless of color – and fellowship. More than three decades later, their priorities haven’t changed.

&#8221We don’t even know race anymore,“ Stirgus said. &#8221That is the truth. I don’t think we have ‘race relations’ at all. It never has been a problem.“

Rather, the founding members and other Kiwanians treat each other like family.

&#8221I wish everyone got along as well as we do,“ said Oren Bailess Sr., a charter member of the club and former Warren County chancery clerk.

If so, Stirgus said, the nation would be a better place. He is director of the Vicksburg Housing Authority and was the last superintendent of Vicksburg public schools before the municipal and county districts combined in 1986.

&#8221If the United States of America was like Port City Kiwanis Club, we would have a much better country,“ he said. &#8221We are very supportive of one another.“

Although all six of the charter members – Gil Martin, Robert Pickett and Euphyrtee Williams and the others – are men, Port City Kiwanis began admitting women around 1989. The move further diversified the growing club, which started with 75 people.

&#8221We started inviting women then, but actually one of our founding members, Sister Mary Eva Loyacono, helped establish Port City Kiwanis,“ Stirgus said. &#8221We truly became a family organization.“ Sister Mary Eva, a Roman Catholic Sister of Mercy, was administrator of Mercy Regional Medical Center.

Kiwanis International was founded in 1915 in Detroit to change &#8221the world one child and one community at a time.“

More than 600,000 Kiwanis members in 96 countries address needs within Kiwanis communities, such as helping the elderly, promoting literacy, supporting youth recreation and responding to disasters.

Kiwanis also fights to eliminate the effects of iodine deficiency disorders (IDD), a cause of mental retardation.

Vance said his best memories of service with Port City Kiwanis include seeing the happy faces of people the club helps.

&#8221It’s wonderful seeing the looks on young people’s faces whom we give our Key Club scholarships to each year,“ he said.

Port City Kiwanis sponsors Key Club at Warren Central High School and St. Aloysius High School. Vicksburg Kiwanis sponsors Key Club at Vicksburg High School and Porters Chapel Academy.

Port City Kiwanis meets each Thursday morning at Shoney’s.